Wastewater and ER Visit Stats Coming to Lawrence Health Department COVID-19 Updates – The Lawrence Times

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Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health is saying goodbye to its big yellow graph of new COVID-19 cases, but it will be replaced with some new statistics.

The new statistics will still be released on Wednesday, but with “a suite” of new information to help people make informed decisions for themselves, said Daniel Smith, a spokesman for the organization. These will include “leading” and “lagging” indicators, Smith said.

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Coming soon to LDCPH updates will be wastewater numbers, “which many see as an extremely useful tool for getting ahead of case counts and transmission rates,” Smith said by email Tuesday.

These numbers may be familiar to some. The city tracked those numbers during the early part of the pandemic and joined a national effort in August to detect and monitor COVID-19 and monkeypox in wastewater. Concentrations of genetic material in wastewater can indicate the presence of a virus in a community and help public health officials mitigate its spread.

You can see the city’s current COVID-19 wastewater charts via Verily Public Health at this link.

The other “major” indicator to add to the LDCPH updates is syndromic surveillance, “which is a fancy term referring to emergency room visits,” Smith said. “If people are familiar with the weekly RSV/Flu updates we’ve been doing for a while, they’ll have seen this type of data used before.”

Here’s an example of what they look like:

The December 30, 2022 update indicates that there have been increases in the percentage of patients who have gotten influenza (the blue line) and RSV (the orange line) during emergency room visits over the past few weeks. The numbers are down for most patients, but for those aged 0 to 9 both percentages increased during the last week shown in the graph.

“The syndromic surveillance data will be presented as a line graph, so some people might instinctively assume it’s a replacement for the big yellow graph, but the information it contains is much less comprehensive, only showing the number of COVID-positive people in the emergency room.” relief,” Smith said. “This is a much smaller sample that won’t reflect overall levels of COVID, but may hint at rising rates across the community.”

There will be two familiar sources of information still included in updates: hospitalizations and deaths.

Both are called “lagging” indicators: “Because these are outcomes of COVID, they won’t allow people to proactively change their behavior out of caution, but they will indicate how bad the current COVID situation is,” Smith said.

As for the big yellow graph showing the 14-day average number of new cases, LDCPH will no longer receive that data. It is now being directed to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment instead, so the change is based largely on practical necessity, Smith said.

“Due to a number of other factors such as home testing, vaccination uptake and an increase in individual knowledge of pandemic precautions, we also believe this is a good time to continue to reduce the amount of granular information we are spreading”. she added.

LDCPH will also move away from using its own transmission indicator, which has been based on metrics generated by that moving average, and instead rely on indicators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and KDHE, Smith said.

“Our gauge has been in the ‘LOW’ category for some time, and the CDC gauge also has Douglas County listed as ‘LOW,’ while KDHE has us listed as ‘Substantial,'” Smith continued. “All three indicators use different metrics to determine levels, so they are not directly comparable, but we believe that presenting both KDHE and CDC levels will do the best job of reflecting where we stand as a county.”

To receive LDCPH email updates, sign up at this link.

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Mackenzie Clark (s/he), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be contacted at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more about her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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